In early 2003, Nicholas Calabrese, facing murder charges for the 1986 shooting of Outfit hitman John Fecarotta, had decided to cooperate with the federal government. In order to be granted immunity for his crimes, Nick needed to admit to the FBI his involvement in as many crimes as he could remember; failure to do so could result in him being dismissed from the Witness Protection Program and a revocation of his immunity from prosecution. During a series of sit-downs with the FBI in 2003, Nick told his tale.
Nicholas Calabrese started his association with the Chicago Outfit in 1969, when he was around 28 years old. Prior to that, he had held various occupations, serving in the Navy as well as the restaurant and ironworking business in Chicago. Nick knew that his brother, Frank Sr., was working for the Outfit, making juice (extortionate credit) loans and running bookmaking operations on Chicago’s south side. Nick assisted his brother by collecting payments, tabulating interest for Frank’s juice business, taking down bets over the phone and keeping tabs on who owed what among Frank’s many customers. Nick hoped that by helping his brother out he could make a little extra cash to help make ends meet – he never planned on getting deeply involved.
Mugshot of Nick Calabrese from a 1990 arrest
That all changed in August of 1970, a little less than a year after Nick started working for his brother. A low-level juice collector and Outfit associate named Michael “Hambone” Albergo had been subpoenaed to testify concerning juice loan operations in the Chicago area and had made the foolish remark that if he was going down, he would not be going down alone. Frank Sr. got the word from Angelo LaPietra, the number two man for the Outfit’s South Side (or 26th Street) crew, to take care of Albergo. Frank Sr. recruited Ronnie Jarrett, a known thief and burglar, and Nick to help carry out his gruesome task. Frank Sr. and Nick staked out a construction site and decided it would be a suitable place to bury Albergo as his body would soon be entombed beneath tons of concrete and steel. After digging the hole, Jarrett informed the brothers that Albergo had agreed to meet with them the next night. Jarrett had stolen a car and picked Albergo up before proceeding on to pick up the Calabrese brothers. Nick slid in behind Albergo on the passenger side while Frank sat behind the driver, Jarrett. As the four made their way towards the burial site, Frank kept Albergo distracted with small talk while Nick discreetly slipped on a pair of gloves. Soon, Frank was doing the same and as Jarrett made his way onto the construction site and put the car in park, the killers sprung. Nick and Jarrett grabbed the surprised Albergo’s arms as Frank wrapped a rope around the hapless loan shark’s neck. A few more tense moments of tugging and Albergo’s body was soon limp.
Michael “Hambone” Albergo, Nick’s first victim
Jarrett and the brothers carried the body to its makeshift grave, stripped it, and Frank cut Albergo’s throat with a butcher knife for good measure before dumping it into the hole. Jarrett left the scene while Frank and Nick poured a bag of lime on top of the body to accelerate decomposition. As the brothers refilled the hole with dirt Nick came to the realization that he had wet his pants. His clothes were filthy from the digging anyway so he hoped his brother would not notice. After the grisly task was finished, the brothers walked to a nearby service station where Jarrett picked them up and took them to his mother’s garage to change.
Nick continued to work for his brother and the South Side crew for the next several years; collecting payments and taking bets from Frank’s various loan shark and bookmaking customers. Nick also began to branch out into other areas of work. The Outfit was particularly invested in shaking down local businesses for monthly cash payments, particularly adult video stores and locally owned food chains. The price for not paying was usually just a threat. If the potential victim continued to balk then arson would typically be employed against the establishment. If they continued to resist or worse, went to the authorities, physical violence would be enacted. Most agreed to pay right away. One of the Outfit’s biggest schemes was fraudulent Teamsters Pension Fund loans. The Outfit would use its contacts in the Teamsters to make loans from their pension fund which went towards the construction of casinos (which they then proceeded to “skim” from) and other illicit activities. Joey “The Clown” Lombardo, capo of the Outfit’s Grand Avenue crew and their designated Teamsters liaison, was in charge of the operation. Lombardo earned his nickname by his seemingly playful attitude and humorous mugshots, of which he had plenty. Born on New Years Day, 1929, Lombardo was a lifelong criminal and had been accepted into the good graces of the Outfit at an early age. Although only in his forties when he was given his own crew and appointed as Teamsters liaison, Lombardo was respected and feared on the streets, where his playful attitude disappeared.
Joey “The Clown” Lombardo leaving court and showing photographers how he earned his nickname
Lombardo, “clowning” for the camera
As part of the Teamsters pension fund scam, the Outfit needed to have legitimate contacts in order to guarantee the success of the operation. One of these contacts was Daniel Seifert, who was owner of International Fiberglass despite being only in his twenties. Lombardo funneled loans into Seifert’s company under the guise of work-related expenses when in reality, they went straight into Lombardo’s pocket. Lombardo had been “hired” by Seifert to work for his company but only on paper – Lombardo would not be required to show up for his job, only to pick up his check. As someone who made a living off of illegal activities, he could use the legitimate income on his tax returns. Occasionally, Lombardo would show up on the work floor and make it appear as if he was a regular employee, even having his picture taken wearing a work uniform. Seifert eventually grew friendly with Lombardo, even naming his infant son, Joseph, after him. Unfortunately for Seifert, the feds had been investigating the suspicious Teamsters loans for quite some time, and traced several to Seifert’s fiberglass company – and Lombardo. Seifert soon became disillusioned with Lombardo and began to fear that he would lose his business and also started to fear for his safety, keeping several firearms available “just in case.” His wife, Emma, even mentioned seeing Lombardo slowly drive by their house on a few occasions. All of this led Seifert to begin cooperating with the federal government.
One Friday morning in September, 1974, Daniel and his wife and four-year old son, Joseph, went to the office early. Upon entering, his wife was confronted by two masked men who burst in from the work floor entracne and yelled “This is a robbery!” Daniel knew better and bolted out the front door as one of the masked men was attempting to cuff him. Daniel then tried to make it across a lot and grassy field to another row of buildings. However, a backup shooter was waiting outside for just this scenario and began chasing and firing at Daniel, hitting him in the leg and dropping him in the grass. Calmly, the gunner walked up to the injured Daniel and shot him in the head with his shotgun. Emma watched all of this in horror from the office window, with the other two gunmen keeping their guns trained on her and her young son. Once the outside shooter had disposed of Daniel, the remaining gunmen bolted from the premises and made their way to two getaway cars which then tore away from the scene. A few blocks away, one of the cars, a brown Ford LTD, was abandoned and the passengers crammed into the remaining car, a Dodge Challenger, and sped away. This was witnessed by two policemen in a nearby patrol car which had received an APB for the make and model of both vehicles. Despite taking quick pursuit, the patrol car was losing ground to the quicker vehicle. Weaving in and out of traffic, the Challenger eventually made its escape through a residential neighborhood and the authorities had to settle for the LTD and what little evidence they could gather, which included a few masks, a police scanner, and two boxes which could control the brake and tail lights of the vehicle, making it difficult to trail in the dark.
Ford LTD used in the Seifert murder
How does the Seifert murder tie in with Nick Calabrese? Nick had told the feds that he had lunched with John Fecarotta in 1981, several years after the Seifert murder, and that Fecarotta had admitted to Nick that he had been the wheelman in the Seifert slaying. This was not strange to Nick as Fecarotta was known in Outfit circle as a talented driver. Fecarotta also told Nick that Lombardo and Frank “The German” Schweiss, a feared Outfit associate and hitman, were the two masked men who had confronted the Seifert family in the office, while Joey Hansen, another Outfit associate, had delivered the fatal shot. Fecarotta also told Nick that Anthony Spilotro and James LaPietra (Angelo’s brother) were the remaining members of the hit squad. Armed with this information in 2003, Nick informed the feds of what Fecarotta had told him. Although they had long suspected Lombardo of being involved with the murder, the authorities had never quite been able to gather enough corroborating evidence. Now, they had what they needed. Frank Calabrese, Sr. would not be the only mobster going down in Family Secrets.
Joey Lombardo, showing his serious side for once